email thomas

















By Thomas Wheeler

Not so very long ago, a very unusual set of G.I. Joe figures turned up at the most unexpected of places -- a discount chain of stores known as Dollar General. Predictably, these became known as the "Dollar General Joes". Unlike some items that turn up at similar stores, which are largely previously released merchandise placed on clearance, these figures were new! They were all familiar faces -- Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, Duke, Shipwreck, Cobra Commander, and a Cobra Trooper, and for the most part they all used previously existing parts, but it was their designs and color schemes that were entirely new to the modern line.

Mostly, they were based on previous incarnations from the original G.I. Joe line -- just versions that had yet to be brought into the modern line, and ones which didn't likely stand much chance otherwise. Much as the 25th Anniversary line sought to replicate the basic looks of the original characters in the new figure format, so these figures sought to do the same. Snake Eyes was based on his unusual 1991 incarnation. Storm Shadow looked like his initial Ninja Force version. Shipwreck, amazingly, was based on his dramatically different "newsculpt" version from the 2002-2006 era. And so forth.

The timing of the figures' arrival, more or less, couldn't have been better. They pretty much came between the initial release of the "Retaliation" figures at the more usual retail outlets, which as it turned out was before the last-minute delay of the release of the movie itself, and the return of the Retaliation figures more in time with the actual release of the movie. But far more than a convenient fill-in, these were extremely capable figures in their own right.

And now, they've returned -- in all-new color schemes! These figures are massively popular and not easily acquired, but with the help of a friend of mine who has so many Dollar Generals in his area that they literally overlap each other on the average online map, I am now in possession of a set of these figures, and this review will take a look at everybody's favorite ninja - STORM SHADOW!

To say that Storm Shadow is one of the most popular characters in the G.I. Joe world is phenomenal understatement. This frequently conflicted character is easily one of the top individuals in the G.I. Joe universe.

Storm Shadow, whose real name was eventually revealed to be Thomas Arashikage, was first introduced in the legendary "Silent Issue", #21 of the original G.I. Joe comic book. In this tale, a white-garbed ninja wearing a Cobra emblem on his uniform has managed to capture Scarlett. He brings her before Cobra Commander, who has set up a headquarters in Destro's castle in the Scottish highlands. Cobra Commander orders her thrown into the castle's dungeon, where, of course, she prepares to escape.

Of course, where Scarlett goes, Snake Eyes is almost assuredly going to follow, especially if his lady-friend is in trouble. Snake Eyes bails out of an airplane, and stages a highly successful one-man assault on the castle, including taking down Storm Shadow's personal minions, a trio of rather unfortunate ninjas garbed in red. This would be the first appearance of the Red Ninjas, who would also become rather prominent in the comic book, and for that matter in the recent "Retaliation" movie.

There is, ultimately, a final showdown between Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes, in which Storm Shadow attempts to hurl his sword at the G.I. Joe commando. Scarlett, flying a Cobra jet pack, intercedes, but Snake Eyes is still able to intercept the sword, and the two Joe Team members fly off to safety.

The last couple of panels reveal a secret, however. A torn spot on the lower right sleeve of Snake Eyes' uniform shows a mysterious tattoo underneath. The white-garbed ninja, the wrapping on his lower arm having come undone, has the same ninja.

The implication was as clear as it was mysterious. Somewhere along the way, Snake Eyes and the ninja had a shared history. And given that Snake Eyes had already proven himself to be, basically, the ultimate ninja-commando-soldier-don't-mess-with-this-guy, the notion of someone with similar capabilities working for the bad guys was decidedly alarming.

The ninja, whose name was soon revealed to be Storm Shadow, in the next issue that actually used word balloons, proved to be as formidable a threat as expected. The Joe Team captured him -- briefly -- and it was Stalker who realized who the ninja had to be, and the G.I. Joes realized that if Storm Shadow was as dangerous as some sort of relationship with Snake Eyes implied, then he was a whole lot more dangerous than initially believed.

Gradually, the origin of both Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow unfolded. Both men had served in the same Long Range Recon Patrol unit with Stalker, in southeast Asia. At this point, there was no Joe Team, no Cobra. Stalker and Snake Eyes were simply soldiers, albeit very good ones. Storm Shadow had enlisted at the urging of his family. Apparently the ninja clan from which he came considered military combat duty a sort of "graduation exercise".

By the time Stalker had joined the unit, Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes were already close friends, and Storm Shadow frequently spoke about Snake Eyes "joining the family business". Snake Eyes, however, just wanted to get through his tour of duty and get home. He constantly kept a picture of his sister with him.

Tragedy struck, however, when Snake Eyes family was killed in a traffic accident caused by a drunk driver (astoundingly enough the brother of the man who would become Cobra Commander), and having nowhere else to really go, he accepted Storm Shadow's invitation to travel to Japan and "join the family business". The family business was, of course, the Arashikage Ninja Clan, whose tattoo, derived from the I - Ching, was worn by most of its members on their lower right arm.

Snake Eyes excelled in his training, to the point where he exceeded even Storm Shadow in some disciplines. This drove an increasing wedge of jealousy between the two men, who had once been as close as brothers. Then, during a training exercise, during which time the ninja clan's head, the Hard Master, intended to name Snake Eyes as his successor, the Hard Master was assassinated. Storm Shadow was seen fleeing the scene, and it was assumed that he had turned against both Snake Eyes and the clan.

With the ninja clan in disarray, Snake Eyes returned to the United States, and lived a hermit-like existence until recruited by Stalker for the brand-new G.I. Joe team. Storm Shadow, on the other hand, infiltrated the ranks of Cobra and worked his way up to becoming Cobra Commander's personal bodyguard. While playing the role of villain, Storm Shadow's intention all along had been to find the real assassin of the Hard Master. It had not been Storm Shadow. The true assassin had fled the scene in a Cobra helicopter.

It would eventually turn out that the assassin was Zartan, and his real target, as directed by Cobra Commander, was Snake Eyes. But as part of the exercise, the Hard Master was duplicating the life signs of Snake Eyes, and Zartan's advanced archery equipment had been fooled.

Cobra Commander knew all this, and made a promise to tell Storm Shadow who the assassin was -- at some point. Eventually, Storm Shadow did learn the identity of the Hard Master's assassin, but was unable to take his revenge. By this time, he had already turned his back on Cobra, in the comic books, at least, and was training young Billy, the son of Cobra Commander, while occasionally assisting the G.I. Joe team, or at least Snake Eyes.

Storm Shadow's life would continue to be a tumultuous one. He was shot by the Baroness, his genetic material used as part of the development of Serpentor, was able to recover from the gunshots thanks to certain arcane ninja skills, was helped to escape the Cobra-held city of Springfield by the Dreadnoks, of all people, and eventually went into a very semi-retirement, while still assisting Snake Eyes and the G.I. Joe team on occasion.

Much later, he was captured by Cobra and exposed to the Brainwave Scanner, which turned him against Snake Eyes and the Joe Team once again. At this point, continuity gets a little vague. The Devil's Due comics have been "Disavowed", but within these stories, which were certainly capable tales, Storm Shadow went back and forth for quite some time before finally shaking off the Scanner treatments, and aligning himself once again with the Joe Team, which was understandably a little reluctant to trust him. He also starred in a seven-issue comic series on his own.

In the more recent IDW comics, at least in the continuation of the "Real American Hero" title written by Larry Hama, Storm Shadow has also managed to shake off the effects of the Brainwave Scanner, and assists Snake Eyes and the Joe Team however he can.

In the first animated series, Storm Shadow was clearly associated with Cobra, and his relationship with Snake Eyes was essentially non-existent. Snake Eyes honestly didn't have nearly as great a role in the animated series as he did in the comics. Storm Shadow's best moments in the original series were likely in the episode "Excalibur", where the ninja discovered the legendary sword of King Arthur.

In the second animated series, produced by DiC, Storm Shadow was clearly associated with the G.I. Joe team, which was also in keeping with the toy line at the time, and his relationship with Snake Eyes, which had dominated the comic book anytime both characters turned up, was given greater emphasis.

As for the toys, the original Storm Shadow figure was released in 1984, and was clearly a Cobra figure. Storm Shadow was garbed in white, with a red Cobra emblem on his tunic. The second figure, released in 1988, actually switched Storm Shadow from Cobra to the G.I. Joe team, which, as far as I know, is the first time an official action figure has switched sides like that. This Storm Shadow was dressed in a looser-fitting costume, mostly white with some gray camouflage trim on it. The next several Storm Shadow figures were also clearly affiliated with the G.I. Joe team.

However, it was eventually decided, at least in the action figure line, to return Storm Shadow to Cobra. I have the belief that the general consensus was that it made more sense to have one hugely popular martial-arts ninja-commando-whatever on EACH side of the Joe-Cobra conflict, instead of having them both on the same side. Storm Shadow remained with Cobra through Sigma Six, and largely into the present day, including his appearances in the live-action movies, although in Retaliation he did assist the Joe Team, so who knows?

There have been literally dozens of Storm Shadow figures over the years. He had four in the original line alone, not counting a 12" Hall of Fame version. There have since been other 12" versions, as well as many, many 3-3/4" versions. He returned in the 1997-1998 series, and during the "newsculpt" era of 2002-2006, not only had several appearances in that format, but turned up once again in traditional form in a number of the special edition comic-packs and multi-figure packs that were produced.

And, of course, he has had a presence in the modern line, numerous times over, from the 25th Anniversary right through and including Retaliation.

So what made the first Dollar General version so unusual? Well, like many of the other Dollar General figures, it was based on a version of Storm Shadow from fairly late on in the original line, and as such is not a version of Storm Shadow that one would really expect to have otherwise seen transferred into the modern figures.

If you look at the figures that were produced for the 25th Anniversary line, and for a while afterwards, those that were specifically based on figures from the original Real American Hero line didn't get much past 1985, with a few from 1986. Those years are considered by many collectors to be the "hey-day" of G.I. Joe, although speaking for myself, I think there were plenty of cool characters that followed. However, in fairness, most of the prominent characters were either well-established by, or during, this time.

I was personally delighted when the series of figures prior to the Retaliation line gave us modern incarnations of characters like Sci-Fi, Lifeline, Airtight, and the Cobra Techno-Viper. Their presence was sorely lacking in the modern figure format. I also admit I was rather surprised to see them.

However, it's fair to say that for the most part, the modern G.I. Joe line has been based either on the live-action movies, the more recent animated series, or a handful of new characters, or new interpretations of existing characters, rather than being based on the later years of the original line.

By 1992, G.I. Joe was specializing in a number of "special teams". These were themed groups of figures, usually with some G.I. Joes and some Cobras, that usually had some special feature about them. One of the special teams to turn up in 1992 was called NINJA FORCE.

The G.I. Joe side of Ninja Force included team leader Storm Shadow, along with several entirely new characters. The Cobra side consisted of two ninjas named Slice and Dice.

The "gimmick" to Ninja Force was that each of the figures had some sort of built-in spring-action feature that enabled them to make some kind of "martial arts" move. It was based rather strongly on a similar feature that had been installed in Kenner's Super Powers line years earlier.

Personally, I didn't care for the gimmick. It hindered articulation, made the figures impossible to disassemble for repair purposes, and in some cases, the physiques of the figures had to be altered to accommodate the mechanisms, since they were a good bit smaller than Super Powers figures. This was not always a complimentary alteration. The trade-off was getting five new characters introduced into the line, since the only "veteran" of the initial group was Storm Shadow.

Of course, this was an entirely new Storm Shadow figure, and he was unusually outfitted in a costume that featured a significant amount of black, previously a color associated with Snake Eyes, not Storm Shadow. Storm Shadow was wearing a white hood, white boots, and some white accessories strapped to his leg, but much of his costume was black. The white from his shoulders tapered down, and from his boots tapered up, in a sort of speckled pattern that looked like a snowstorm at night, but much of the center of the costume was black, as was the mask covering Storm Shadow's face under the hood. The only other prominent color on the costume was gold, on the shoulder pads and a couple of weapons.

The initial version of the "Dollar General" Storm Shadow did a really superb job emulating this design, and as far as I'm concerned, was an improvement in that it didn't have any annoying spring-action features built in.

So, what about the Version 2 recoloration? It's cool. Storm Shadow has a mostly white uniform this time around, with other colors of trim instead of the white.

But one question needs to be raised with this figure -- is this really Storm Shadow? Okay, the name on the package reads Storm Shadow, so technically speaking, it is. But it does seem rather apparent that there is another character who is very strongly acknowledged here.

The first version of this figure was based, as I said, on the Storm Shadow from the Ninja Force special team. In the original Ninja Force, the Storm Shadow figure that was created for that line actually had two uses. Technically three, if you count the Shadow Ninjas Storm Shadow, but I'm not going to confuse matters that much.

The first use, obviously, was for Storm Shadow. The second use, coming in the second year of Ninja Force, was for an entirely different individual who went by the name of T'GIN-ZU.

T'Gin-Zu was the driver of one of two rather oddball Ninja Force vehicles that were basically spring-action weaponized platforms on wheels. Let's keep in mind that Ninja Force was part of the 90's, during which there was a distinct "anything goes" mentality with G.I. Joe.

Unlike the predominantly black-uniformed Ninja Force Storm Shadow, with white trim on his uniform, T'Gin-Zu had a mostly white uniform, with a certain amount of ORANGE trim, definitely not a color associated with Storm Shadow.

Now, this new Storm Shadow figure does not match T'Gin-Zu's markings. This Storm Shadow has a very dark blue face mask, something the original T'Gin-Zu did not have, and an orange hood. with orange shoulder trim, an orange belt, and orange boots. This is, honestly, a lot more orange than T'Gin-Zu originally had, and for that matter, it's a different color orange. It's almost an orange-tan, rather than the decidedly bright orange that the original figure sported.

But, it's still orange. And there's only been one Storm Shadow based figure out there that's ever used orange to any significant degree as part of his uniform design. And that's T'Gin-Zu.

I can think of several reasons why Hasbro wouldn't name this figure T'Gin-Zu. The character comes from a rather -- well, silly part of G.I. Joe's history. T'Gin-Zu never again turned up after his one and only appearance as the driver of a slightly preposterous vehicle that almost certainly wouldn't make it into the line today. The name itself seems to be a take on the mail-order "Ginzu" kitchen knives that were promoted on television for years. And let's face it, the name Storm Shadow is certainly well-known not only within the G.I. Joe community, but beyond it. Even people with little more than a casual knowledge of G.I. Joe might well have heard of this character. His presence in the movies has certainly helped. T'Gin-Zu -- not so much.

Nevertheless, I know of any number of longtime G.I. Joe collectors who are regarding this figure as a modern version of T'Gin-Zu, and I can't say as I blame them. It's like the character managed to pull himself out of a somewhat silly time period, got a saner but still familiar color scheme, and ditched the vehicle. This is a more dignified T'Gin-Zu, perhaps.

With that in mind, I would like to present details from the original file card for the T'Gin-Zu character:

File Name: Rainone, Joseph R.
Birthplace: Somers, New York
Primary Specialty: Pile Driver Vehicle Operator
Secondary Specialty: Ninja Swords Master
Motto: "Driving a Ninja Raider is like being strapped to a lightning bolt!"

T'GIN-ZU was the best martial arts student STORM SHADOW ever taught. He studied the martial arts for over 20 years until he earned the right to be called a ninja master. He learned some of the guarded secrets of the Arashikage ninja clan, especially those dealing with covert operations and various techniques in self-discipline and endurance training. During his first week as part of Ninja Force, T'Gin-Zu volunteered to be a Ninja Raider driver. Since then, he has clobbered Cobras across the globe in his pursuit to capture the entire band of Cobra's Red Ninjas... ALONE!!!

So, what do I say? Is this Storm Shadow, or is it T'Gin-Zu? Personally, I'm not saying. Officially, it's Storm Shadow. Appearance-wise -- well, that may be another matter, and it's hard to imagine that Hasbro didn't have this in mind. I see it as a paintjob version of those times past when Hasbro had to change the name of a popular character due to legal or copyright reasons just to get the character out. I don't know too many people who call that 2001 Roadblock "Double Blast" or whatever, even if he was given a completely new identity on his file card.

Maybe for you, this is an interestingly colored Storm Shadow. Maybe for you, this is a modern figure of T'Gin-Zu, an admittedly obscure member of the original Ninja Force. That's your choice entirely.

Of course, Storm Shadow/T'Gin-Zu is superbly articulated. I've had a little trouble getting him to stand up straight. The ankle articulation is a little limited, and the bottoms of his feet are not flat. But it's not impossible to get him to stand up straight.

Although these Dollar General figures do not have file cards on their packages them (one might assume that the characters are popular enough so as to not need all that much backstory accompanying them every time), Storm Shadow does come with a few accessories. This includes a nicely made sword, an extremely impressive and rather large bow, and a display base. Interestingly enough, the base has a Cobra emblem sculpted into it. Apparently, Hasbro is determined to keep Storm Shadow allied with Cobra, even though the first time he wore this outfit, he was considered a member of the G.I. Joe team. And if we're to see this figure as T'Gin-Zu at all, he was certainly never a member of Cobra.

So, what's my final word? If you're a longtime G.I. Joe collector that is looking for modern versions of your original-line favorites, then this unusual series of figures, certainly including Storm Shadow, is worth the hunt. And the Storm Shadow figure in particular is extremely impressive, not to mention possibly representing an entirely different individual that really isn't likely to ever come out in the modern collection under his own name, and will be a welcome addition to any modern G.I. Joe collection regardless of what you call him.

The "DOLLAR GENERAL" G.I. JOE figure of STORM *koff* T'GIN-ZU *koff* SHADOW definitely has my highest recommendation!